Did you tune into Campus Rec Magazine’s first digital roundtable, “Implementing an Esports Program”?
If so, you may not have had your questions answered. In fact, there were several unanswered questions that came through after the time cap. Fortunately, the roundtable’s panel has answered them here.
Panel: Dylan Wray, the recreation program specialist/esports coordinator at the University of North Texas; David Kirk, the assistant director of esports at The University of Akron; and Nicholas Singer, the assistant director of competitive sports at Vanderbilt University.
Question 1: Do any of you limit the time that an individual can play on a given day?
Dylan Wray: Our public space has a cap of four hours per student. This helps more students utilize the facility, but it also motivates them to leave the space and work on school work. Our varsity program doesn’t have a daily limit, as we structure things out on a weekly basis. Each athlete is required to practice at a minimum five solo hours per week, and about 13 to 15 hours of in-person practice, review and performance. We do monitor total time outside of practice and have a hard cap of 30 hours.
David Kirk: We do not have daily limits; however, we do impose semester limits. Research shows that “gamers” play video games an average of six hours a week. There are obviously students who spend way more and way less than this average. What we’ve done is given all students a free pass for 90 hours over the course of the 15-week semester to be used at their discretion. If a student meets or exceeds those 90 hours, I get a notification and do a wellness checkup — grades, mental health, etc. If I see any signs of “over gaming” or “gaming addiction,” I put a hold on the student’s gaming account and refer them to our counseling services; they’ve developed an intervention protocol to help students get back on track. We’ve only ever had one instance where a student falls below a 3.0 — our GPA limit to use the facilities — and after being referred to counseling services, was given permission to return to the facility and the next semester had their grades back above the minimum. Gamers are inherently intelligent as they’re solving problems and thinking critically all the time in these games. Add that to the fact they don’t want to lose access to these top-of-the-line facilities, and it serves as a big motivator to strive for success.
Nicholas Singer: We aren’t currently tracking this from a recreational perspective, but in events we have run, our event time limit has usually been set at about six hours. This will likely change as we work more with the esports groups on campus to better reflect their wants/needs versus our historical programming efforts with traditional sports.
Question 2: What low cost methods can you suggest to bring in a diverse participant pool?
DW: Having a moderation team for your community is really important to curating a healthy diverse population in your campus gaming community. If people are able to get away with posting homophobic, raciest or sexist comments in your Discord server, you will alienate those populations from participating in your teams or events. The grim fact is that esports lives on the internet, and the semi-anonymity from online profiles and accounts leads to toxic and harmful language.
We created a rule that requires members on our Discord community — the main social platform esports lives on — to change their online profile to have their first and last name displayed with student verification. This more open and transparent community leads to an overall healthy social channel, and our mod team made it clear that students who violated our community guidelines could be reported to our dean of students or removed from our server.
DK: Work with your diverse groups/clubs already on campus to do some programming centered around gaming. Roughly 60% percent of the U.S. population say they play games, while roughly 25% identify as gamers; there are bound to be some crossovers in all groups. Additionally, don’t be afraid to allow students to bring their own console and computer setups; just ensure you have the power and networking available to accommodate them. Lastly, do targeted programming and recruitment.
NS: Work with the clubs/student organizations you currently have on campus and invite them to bring their own equipment to an event. Scheduling an online tournament/ladder of sorts would be great, just like a self-scheduled racquet sport league. I have treated it similarly to my self-scheduled sports in the past where they will play the pool play games on their own accord, either completely online for console games, or the players can agree upon a place to meet and play. The bracket will then be in-person, and we have streamed the games on a projector in the room or an adjoining room so others can watch. There are some companies — GameStop is fairly available in most cities — that can rent consoles out. The department would incur the cost, but then students wouldn’t have to worry about their own purchase of equipment. Your student groups may also know of other vendors who can provide gaming laptops/computer set-ups and console rentals to help facilitate a program on your campus.
Question 3: We do not have a varsity program and are just starting up. Some of the national governing bodies (NGBs) require a team to be varsity. Do you know of other NBGs that don’t require this varsity status in order to help organize competition?
DW: The best run, and most prestigious, collegiate esport leagues are run by the game developers themselves and not by any NGB. As these developers own the concept and distribution of these games — think of someone owning the concept of football today — NGBs don’t have a lot of power to dictate how things are actually implemented in the esports space. Top developers that are contributing to collegiate esports are Blizzard, Riot and Psyonix. While those developers are making an investment in the collegiate space, their more notable games are usually worthwhile fielding on a casual and competitive level.
DK: Every major “esports” title has some sort of nationally programmed free tournament competition. Collegiate Star League, Collegiate League of Legends, Collegiate Rocket League and Tespa are some of the larger, more solidified ones. While more and more of these leagues are providing varsity-only tracks, they still have competitive leagues for all to participate in. I would caution programs to not join a NGB right now for esports as there is no official collegiate esports NGB and the benefits many of them provide aren’t worth the membership fees. All of the major prize pools and competition are currently part of the free tournaments provided by the specific game developers. Some NGBs have been banned from holding competition in some of the most popular esports titles because their membership fee is exclusionary and creates a systemic financial barrier universities need to be mindful of.
Question 4: How do you prioritize equipment to purchase with a limited budget? Console vs. PC?
DW: It depends on what your target goals are for your programming. If you want to get students to hang out at your rec center, get a Switch with Super Smash Bros. and have controllers checked out at your front desk. If you want to develop a competitive program, you will have to invest in a PC gaming area.
DK: Consoles can be cheaper, though not by much, but have some extremely significant competitive disadvantages. Also, the majority of major esport titles are played on a PC. Even if competitive teams are what you’re focusing on, providing just consoles doesn’t offer a big enough incentive to get students out of their dorm rooms, where many already have consoles. If you have high-end gaming PCs, students who might have their own PCs, just not to the caliber of the programs’, would be incentivized to come to your spaces to play on a “more competitive field.”
NS: I would start with the breakdown of student groups you already have on campus participating in esports and gauging your student interest in console versus PC games. While this won’t necessarily provide an answer for the future, it may help with your initial investment opportunity. I would also look to local companies you could rent equipment from and run the numbers on purchasing versus renting. I’ve had more success finding consoles to rent over gaming computers.
Question 5: How are you finding students with enough expertise to coach the different titles?
DW: Our program, like many others, isn’t at the point of hiring a full-time staff for each title. Our coaching opportunities are for students to test out if coaching is their thing while they are in college. We generally look at two main areas for our coaching crew. UNT has sports psychology, sports management and sports business management academic programs. These students, if they are interested in applying their education to esports, can be super handy in managing individual teams. Like David said, there are certainly students that obsess over these games in the same way a super fan of football or basketball does. If a student doesn’t make it on to a team, or doesn’t make TESPA or Riot’s academic full-time requirements, consider offering them a coaching position on your competitive teams to start. After you develop your program, these positions will be sought after as a way to get real coaching experience for esports.
DK: Many students invest hundreds of hours into titles, and although they may not have the mechanical knowledge of the game, they have a very deep technical knowledge of the game. Another great thing about esports titles is that online communities are vibrant with various strategies, guides, videos, etc. that students can pull from and learn from. What we do at Akron is provide students the higher-level administrative support to be effective coaches. We provide them the guidance and resources to get started, then rely on them to dig into the various games and strategies to be the content experts. This has worked out really well for our program, but at the end of the day, you always have the hurdle of trying to motivate students to not play their favorite games, but rather do a deep dive and learn the intricacies of it.
Question 6: Are your coaches paid? How do you motivate those who aren’t?
DW: For 2019, our main coaches get paid $9 per hour. Our assistant coaches and analysts are provided a stipend of $322.50 per semester. In 2018, we didn’t have paid positions for all of our teams. We relied on apparel and access to the same benefits that our players had — team dinners, workouts and apparel items — to motivate their help and commitment. Don’t underestimate the power of a cool looking jersey with your student’s name on it.
DK: We have a student coach and a student manager for each of our varsity teams. They are provided $3,000 and $5,000 scholarships. Many are interested in potential esports coaching careers beyond college, so their motivation is internal. Those who don’t have that career goal in mind are still motivated because they view themselves as part of the team’s success and failures, and no gamer wants to be the “weak link.” If we see them struggling or they have questions, our administrative staff will work through their concerns.
Question 7: What type of sponsorships have you found and how does someone who is looking to start a program reach out to those companies?
DW: If you want to go down the sponsorship route for your business model, you need to think about viewership as you develop your program. Where on campus can you advertise your program? Do you have the technology or know how to manage a Twitch channel? What inherent perks can you advertise to potential sponsors? What local businesses can I start with to grow interest in investing in my program?
DK: Sponsorships in esports are tough right now, specifically because everyone thinks there is an infinite pool of money in esports, which isn’t the case. While monetary sponsorships do happen, a more realistic expectation is for in-kind donations of equipment to offset those costs. Once/if your program gets more competitive and is getting national attention, it becomes a bit easier to show the sponsor what their ROI will be in terms of visibility on program branding. However, for those programs just starting out, they should curve those expectations and focus more on securing sponsorships that offset the cost of equipment, which is your biggest budget line. There are other ways to make revenue; a few we’ve found successful are: advertising in our physical space/location, public membership, public events/rentals and summer camps.